Every time I go on a proper climbing trip or an expedition it makes me realise how impressive the likes of Chris Bonington, Leo Houlding, Mick Fowler and the rest of the high altitude guys are. Over the years I have not even scratched the surface of what these guys climbed in their teens, yet I have been exhausted, hungry, cold and scared on many occasions. I dread to think of the hard times that these guys have come across!
I’m a mountain biker, not a climber. I’m instructor qualified and have done a few epic routes in the UK, but nothing abroad until now.
This summer’s trip was much of the same as usual, maximum imagination and minimum planning and preparation. My Climbing partner is a pal called Craig Stevenson, a good climber and semi professional road racer. So off we set on our massive learning curve.
When we arrived in Chamonix it looked like a sunny winter’s day. There had been a good few days of heavy snow on the peaks, so everywhere was covered and the mountains looked stunning!
We headed up to the Midi station and based ourselves on the Vallee Blanche just below Cosmiques ridge. The first few days we just spent acclimatising and doing little day routes to get used to everything. Our main mission was to head up Mont Blanc via the well known yet dangerous three Monts route, Mont Blanc Du Tacul, Mont Maudit and then onto Mont Blanc.
Our tent doorway opened up looking right at the Tacul and we noticed it was completely un-tracked and domed with snow (Avalanche???).
As each day passed nobody made an attempt and nothing moved. Until early one morning we heard a group of climbers pass our tent which we presumed were on their way up, giving us a small amount of confidence that it was a goer. However, a few hours later we heard the sickening rumble of what could only be hundreds of tonnes of moving ice and snow as it smashed its way down the mountain. By dawn it was clear to see that a huge part of the Tacul had fallen, god knows what had happened to the climbers.
As it had dropped, we figured it had shed its worst and went for a recce trip up. After a few hours of slogging we reached the top without too many issues and headed down the other side to check out Mont Maudit.
It took just about an hour’s walk to get a good look at it and we had wished we hadn’t, it just looked like certain death. The snow was completely defying gravity and it was just ready to go at any point.
So we headed back to be pleasantly surprised by another avalanche that had dropped on the Tacul, exactly where we had climbed up a few hours ago. We were massively in the danger zone, no wonder nobody else was up there.
After gingerly descending back down we headed to camp for ANOTHER super noodle meal and a re-think and talked about our only other option, the Gouter Route. Yeah it is the tourist route, but at this time the only route for our abilities and we nearly found that out the hard way!
So the next morning we packed our kit and headed back down to Cham to get some more food and sort ourselves out for another attempt.
The Gouter route is generally done in three days. You get an early train from Les Houches to about 2000m and then you spend the first day trekking up to the Gouter Hut area (6-7 hours guide time). The next day is summit day, so you get up at 2.00 and head for the summit (4800m) and back to the hut (10-12 hours guide time). The third day is just a trek back down to the train and back to les Houches.
Before we knew it we were back on route for the peak again. We left the train at about 9.00am and made our way up to the hut. We had packed superlight, low on food, minimal kit and just bivvy bags, the idea was to get somewhere near the Gouter hut and bivvy out and then make a run for the summit the following day. Our pace was good and we arrived at the hut in the early afternoon. As we were bivvying and couldn’t be bothered sitting around all afternoon we decided to crack on and see how far we could get in the one day.
After a good few hours of slogging we could see the summit and we knew we could make it. It was getting late, we were exhausted and all we had left to eat were super noodles that neither of us could be bothered to make or eat. At 9.00pm that night we reached the top and thankfully we bumped into a pair of Swedish climbers who had decided to pitch a tent and spend the night on top. We got our bivvy kit out and tried to dig in, but there was no chance, and it was hitting -20.
Luckily the two Swedes had hearts of gold and invited us into the tent to spend the night with them. They could see we were exhausted and hungry, so they helped us cook and made us a brew.
We watched the sun set over Europe and dropped off to sleep knowing we were the luckiest guys in the world. If it wasn’t for the Swedes we would have had some serious issues..
The following morning we said our goodbyes and headed back down. After the epic day before and a terrible night’s sleep in the tent we were in bits, we were still out of food and the descent seemed harder than the way up.
Eventually we got ourselves back down to Les Houches, it was a lovely day and it seemed even sweeter after our seemingly endless mission.
From there the plan was to head over to do the Matterhorn and the Eiger west ridge, unfortunately on arrival at both we found that they were not in good condition. We had a little look at the Eiger but quickly came back with our tails between our legs after a near death rock fall moment.
That’s how is goes sometimes, so we decided to live to tell the tale. We will be back and next time our teeth will be a little better cut.